The Oklahoma legislature has introduced a bill to consolidate its disparate law enforcement agencies under one umbrella organization in order to improve collaboration between agencies.
SB 1612 would bring the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Control, and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Safety.
It would also appoint a commissioner to oversee the umbrella organization, along with an 11-member Board of Public Safety chaired by the governor-appointed Public Safety Secretary.
The Board of Public Safety would appoint the commissioner, set the commissioner’s salary and hear complaints against the commissioner, the measure states.
The author of the bill Senator Kim David said the bill would improve communication between the agencies.
“The biggest reason we looked at unification was because of retention, recruitment and training and trying to break down those silos we have in those law enforcement agencies where they don’t communicate well together,” David said.
The senator also said the bill would address training issues.
“We must ensure all public safety personnel get the same high-level training so they can easily move from one area of law enforcement to another, giving them more career opportunities whether they’re highway patrol or want to go into investigations, drug enforcement or other areas,” David said.
Although David said the bill maintains the integrity and mission of each individual agency, Senator Darrell Weaver criticized the bill.
Weaver, former director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, says the qualifications of the bill’s commissioner are not enough.
“This will be the most powerful law enforcement officer in the history of this state, ever,” Weaver said.
These are the necessary qualifications for a commissioner according to the bill: a bachelor’s degree; five years of demonstrated successful leadership experience; and relevant experience in law enforcement, public safety or a related field.
Weaver also expressed concern that the legislation will create a “mega-agency” that will be out of lawmakers’ control. He added that the commissioner will have control over wiretaps and surveillance methods “that would probably scare some of you.”
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Weaver said.
Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney also voted against the measure, citing budget concerns.
“There is a lot of power behind this idea,” McCortney said. “There are people who are pushing very hard and playing pretty dang rough to make this a reality this year.”
The effective date for the agencies will be July 1, 2023, if the House votes yes and the governor signs the bill.